Thank-Ya, Govna! Silver Kept Free Pending Appeal

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has a recently exonerated Virginia governor — and the Supreme Court — to thank Thursday after given a reprieve on orders to report to prison next week.
     Silver has been counting his days as a free man ever since receiving a 12-year prison sentence for receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks.
     Ranking as the second-highest prison term ever dealt to a New York politician, the sentence also ordered Silver to forfeit $5 million worth of bribes and kickbacks, plus pay a $1.75 million fine.
     Widely considered the centerpiece of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s crackdown on graft in Albany, Silver’s lawyers have long predicted that the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of ex-Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell would free their client.
     Like Silver, McDonnell never denied taking money from donors — in the governor’s case, more than $175,000 in loans and gifts, including a Rolex, a Bergdoff Goodman shopping spree for his wife, and wedding gifts for his daughters.
     Silver, for his part, admitted he made millions for a largely ceremonial job at Weitz & Luxenberg, an asbestos-litigation firm where the politician steered the patients of a Columbia University doctor who relied on state grants for his research on mesothelioma.
     The New York Democrat also scored hundreds of thousands of dollars for referring clients to another firm, Goldberg & Iryami. One such client, real estate developer Glenwood Management, had lobbyists aggressively push Silver’s office for favorable legislation in Albany.
     Silver and McDonnell both denied, however, that their money and gifts came with a expectation of a quid pro quo arrangement. The Supreme Court freed McDonnell in June on this basis, holding that prosecutors must prove an “official act” in public corruption cases.
     Many campaign finance experts predicted the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling would amount to a get-out-of-jail bonanza for convicted politicians all across the country.
     Their predictions gained credence on Thursday afternoon, when U.S. District Valerie Caproni found that the McDonnell’s ruling presented a “substantial” enough a question on appeal to keep Silver out of jail until the Second Circuit rules on his case.
     “Silver’s case is factually almost nothing like McDonnell; there is no question that Silver took a number of official acts — most obviously, passing legislation and approving state grants and tax-exempt financing — as part of a quid pro quo in the mesothelioma and real estate schemes,” she wrote in a 24-page opinion. “Nevertheless, there is a substantial question whether, in light of McDonnell, the charge was in error and, if so, whether the error was harmless.”
     Silver’s lawyers Steven Molo and Joel Cohen highlighted that language in an email.
     “We are grateful that the trial judge agrees that there is now a substantial legal question about the conviction,” they told Courthouse News. “We look forward to vigorously pursuing Mr. Silver’s appeal.”
     The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on the development, but its spokesman has long insisted that Silver’s convictions can survive the McDonnell decision.
     Caproni also lightened, but refused to indefinitely delay, the schedule for Silver to pay his financial penalties.
     Silver now must make $5,846 per month payments on his fines starting on Sept. 1.
     Silver had originally been slated to turn himself in next Wednesday. Unless he prevails on appeal, Silver now must surrender 14 days after the Second Circuit’s ruling in his case, or Oct. 27, whichever is later.

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